First (Half A Cow)
Some years ago I came to the conclusion that people from Glasgow were the nicest bloody people ever. Musicians especially, artists of all sorts generally (though Lisa Torrance most of all). And that included people who might have been from elsewhere but found themselves on the west side of Scotland for study or gigs or business or just because Sauciehall Street at night was too alluring to resist.
Among those gems of human beings were the Bellshill trio of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love – and whichever drummer was in the chair that time – of Teenage Fanclub. Their mix of Neil Young (or Neil Jung) and Big Star, Love (the LA band, not Gerard) and The Byrds, Orange Juice and Dinosaur Jr, big hooks and occasionally noisy guitars was killer, and they did some gorgeous semi-sad songs.
What’s all that got to do with anything? The Finalists are not from Glasgow, or even Christchurch – Sydney will have to do – but they have the warmest, semi-melancholy, I’m-going-to-sing-along approximation of Teenage Fanclub you’ll get this side of Kelvingrove. And I’m going to assume that means Mark Tobin (singer/guitarist), Robert Young (guitarist), Matt Brown (drummer) and Chris Familton (bass) are also bloody nice humans.
For conclusive proof, on all these points, take Ignore All The Hate (On Your Telephone). It has a wistfulness that puts a sway in its walk, Tobin declares in a casual, slightly cracked voice that “I can be the worst kind of company” but comes with some timely advice, the acoustic guitar strums gently, the electric guitar noodles its way in, and the song ends with a sigh. Buy this song a beer.
First, conveniently The Finalists’ first album (though all of them have enough history to make this anything but a hesitant debut) offers songs in a light summer haze. Cool Keith – not the Sonic Youth-friendly rapper – is an instrumental which offers a sense of early morning beach solitude, a suggestion of evenings finger-picking in the mountains and a nod to the drift of mid-afternoon. Hunting Knife is laidback and watching passing clouds through half-closed eyes. And even Misery, which jangles as if heading down the streets of your town and then unspools in long, elegant rolls, and Hollywood, a bit more propulsive than its sibling tracks, come at you through the gauziness of rising heat.
None of this will come as a surprise if you’ve encountered the album’s closing track, About Idiots, with its faint hint of Spector in the low-key drums and its wan My Morning Jacket-ish melody. It’s a brave statement of purpose, a dreamscape of more than seven minutes that floats for its first four minutes before pushing out with guitars that bend and blow, bringing the 1970s into view in its doubled lines and replacing the summer haze with an extra thick-doobie, herbal one.
After that, First is the post-school/pre-surf, gently mood-setting/alternative-romance record you hadn’t realised you needed. A summer record of the old school. Whichever coast you’re on.